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Low pay and increased job insecurity: the state of single parent employment

Low pay and increased job insecurity: the state of single parent employment

For many families, simply getting by in the last four years of austerity has often felt like a precarious tightrope walk. People face a labour market characterised by low pay, job insecurity, and under-employment - and government cuts to welfare have left them performing this circus trick without a safety-net.

Gingerbread’s report published today, Paying the Price: The long road to recovery, reveals how this dangerous cocktail of recession and cutbacks has particularly harmed single parent incomes and their job prospects.

Two in five working single parents we surveyed are currently stuck in low-paid work and the pressures, if anything, are mounting. One in four has experienced a drop in wages in the last six months – and that is set against the twin pressures of rising prices and cuts to benefit payments. As a result, 67% of working single parents who responded to our survey said that they find managing their finances a “constant struggle”. Worrying about how the next bill will be paid or where to find the cash to fund the next school trip has become an ever-present concern for many single parents.

With huge resourcefulness and seemingly endless supplies of energy, the single parents we spoke to are doing all they can to cope with these pressures. One in four has increased their working hours to boost their earnings and one in six now has more than one job. However, working more hours or changing jobs isn’t going to help single parents while the UK labour market and welfare system doesn’t do enough to support them. Welfare-to-work policies emphasise finding any job over the right job. In fact, some single parents reported that in order to meet the demands of their Jobcentre’s “claimant commitments” they spend precious time applying for jobs that they know they won’t be able to accept – either because it is too far from home or had unsuitable hours. They do this simply to tick the boxes and to avoid the threat of sanctions.

Navigating the UK jobs market does not have to feel like such a dangerous and high-pressure performance act though –for single parents or families of any shape and size. Our report has laid out a series of reforms that we believe would boost single parent incomes and help them to find work that meets their needs.

We’d like to see investment in skills and training for single parents. Offering job-seeking single parents the opportunity to undertake training would help them to find the career-path they want to be on – rather than pushing them back onto the unsteady tightrope that so many are now used to. 

Further government action to tackle low pay and increase the range of jobs offering flexible hours would also hugely broaden the range of jobs that single parents could conceivably undertake. As primary carers for their children, single parents simply can’t rely on a partner to help them with childcare and school drop-off so they need jobs that they can fit around these responsibilities.

Lastly, we have to acknowledge that anyone at any time can take a slip and fall off the employment tightrope. When that happens, they need a safety-net to fall back-on. That’s why our report calls upon the government to increase the basic rate of support that will be available to single parents on the new universal credit system and allow more benefits to be kept as working hours increase. It is only by undertaking such steps that we can create a genuinely supportive welfare-to-work system that will enable single parents and couples alike to do more than simply stay afloat during tough times.

You can read a full copy of the report by clicking on this link.